I follow Dragon into the tight stairway that spirals down six flights. Each flight consists of a dozen steel stair treads that echo with each step. At the bottom of each flight is a small platform where the next flight connects at ninety degrees. The lights are harsh, making me want to squint against the glare of the stark white walls. I don’t come to the Dungeon because I hate it down here. It makes me feel like they are over compensating for something. Like they are trying to convince you it’s something that it’s not; trying to make you forget that you are deep underground; trying to make you forget that you are completely cut off from the world and at the mercy of cold, calculating, Ministry protocols. I’m also claustrophobic.
At the bottom of the stairway I stare at the cipher lock. The magic word for getting through the door is the same. Well, almost the same. The steps and codes are the same; you just do them in reverse. It would be easy enough for a would-be saboteur to stand around in the main hallway and become familiar with the process, but gaining intelligence on the security in this space would require insider knowledge. If the enemy were to hi-jack an employee to get through these gates, he most likely wouldn't be tipped off if the same procedure was used. But he would be mistaken. If you don’t reverse the order: thumb, PIN, badge; the space goes into lock down. No one will be able to enter or leave until Security arrives.
Now would be my chance to alert Security, if I had any doubts about these guys. And I do have plenty of doubts. If they have such a high clearance, why don’t they have their own PINs and access programs? Why would they need me? If this is some kind of emergency lock down, where is Security? Where are the alarms? Where is anyone?
“Is there a problem, Ms. Fischer?” Dragon asks. His tone is firm but I catch something that might be a hint of concern. Probably just concern that this wasn't going to be a cakewalk and he might have to use force after all. The thought makes me cringe and my stomach flips.
This is it. OPSEC. They drill it into you every minute of every day from the time your hire-on until you retire. Guard your documents. Guard your passwords. Guard your conversations. Guard your knowledge. Guard your secrets. Guard everything. You laugh about it because you are a finance monkey and your secrets consist of how many toner cartridges are bought in a year. You flex the rules because the passwords are too long to remember and have to be changed every thirty days. Maybe you start off gung-ho and serious, but then the day-to-day sets in and you realize there is no boogeyman hiding in every shadow waiting to pounce. But then the boogeyman does show up. What then? They don’t tell you how to stare down the barrel of a gun and say no.
I swipe my badge.
“Not that way, Ms. Fischer,” Dragon says calmly.
So he knows the order of operations at the bottom of the stairs. I tried. He is too well informed. He is either legit or has done his homework. Whatever, I tried. I’m not dying today. My initial patriotism has worn off with the drawn out trip to the Dungeon. I've changed my mind. I'll take my chances with treason.
I wait for the card reader to time out and then I place my thumb on the scanner. The green light begins to blink. I enter my PIN and it continues to blink green. As I go to swipe my badge, I feel a subtle change in the tension emanating from the operatives beside me. Throughout this crazy expedition to the Dungeon, they have been alert, but calm. There was a positive tension that they were using to focus. But now, their posture has changed. Is it fear? Anticipation? This is not my area of expertise, but whatever it is, I don’t like it.
I swipe my badge and the light settles on green and the lock clicks open. This time I make no move to open the door. I just want to go home.